Madden 21: Analyzing Player Ratings, New Features and Ultimate Team

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistAugust 12, 2020

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) runs out of the backfield against the Tennessee Titans during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Nick Wass/Associated Press

With Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson on the cover, the upcoming Madden NFL 21 from EA Sports promises more superstar firepower and features for fans. 

The latest installment in the juggernaut sports franchise releases August 28 and plenty of information has already gone public. That includes the always-popular reveal of player ratings, as well as the always-important new features across the board and in key modes like Ultimate Team. 

As the impending release date inches closer, let's take a look at three prominent areas surrounding this year's release. 


Player Ratings

Ever since the concerted effort to level out ratings across the board and stop handing out 99s to many players, the "99 club" has been one of the most interesting things about each game's buildup of hype. 

This year's 99 club isn't exactly surprising: 

  • Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
  • Aaron Donald, DL, Los Angeles Rams
  • Stephon Gilmore, CB, New England Patriots
  • Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
  • Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints

Mahomes obviously led his team to the Super Bowl while arguably being the best outright player in the league. And Donald put up another elite season, complete with a 93.6 Pro Football Focus grade.

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Patriots corner Stephon Gilmore picked off six passes, Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark between rushing and receiving, and Saints wideout Michael Thomas surpassed 1,700 receiving yards. 

That's simplifying things, but the very best of the best is again an exclusive club at mostly premium positions, with McCaffrey being an exception.

As always, the nice thing about the ratings is the team at EA Sports will tune them as the season progresses so the virtual field reflects the real one. 


New Features 

The new features list is always second to the player rating reveal. 

And this year's list of features isn't a slouch. On the gameplay front, this year's release promises more innovation and fluidity as an offensive playmaker. New spins, slides and hurdles attached to a Skill Stick mean gameplay better mimicking what is very much an offensive-minded league right now. 

Not that EA Sports will just let offenses run wild without empowering players to counteract some of that via defense. The Skill Stick also gives players a vast array of pass-rushing moves to choose from on the fly and tackling tuning now accounts for more precision. 

Painting in broader strokes in the "new" category, "Face of the Franchise: Rise To Fame" is a new career mode with a player-oriented slant. Perhaps most interesting of all is the fact that this year's Madden release won't just update player ratings weekly—specific team playbooks will get fine-tuned weekly as well to reflect what each team uses on the field in all facets. 

At this point in the franchise's life cycle, there are only so many new directions to go. No longer wishing a specific team could run a certain play that the real-life team does is a nice touch and can remove the wait time. Where the old wait used to be until the next year's game releases, it could merely be a week-long wait. 


Ultimate Team

Ultimate Team is again a major focus of a Madden release a year removed from a new star system helping players of all skill levels identify the difficulty and rewards of specific challenges. 

That upgrade, along with a streamlined ability to tackle challenges and better earn wanted rewards were nice quality-of-life additions. 

Madden NFL 21 will again push things in a user-friendly direction while building upon that foundation and the gameplay side, like last year, will likely get all of the broader gameplay upgrades. 

Ultimate Team Challenges will again be flanked by more player-vs-player modes like H2H seasons, MUT Draft and MUT Squads, all in the interest of building out decks. MUT Coins and packs will still serve as the grind-point for players who want to fine-tune a roster before heading online. 

What should prove interesting is the weekly support for Ultimate Team too as the mode loops in Hall of Famers, events, weekly challenges and more. As always, the usual gameplay loop should keep players coming back for more even after the regular season ends.